Will 2018 be the year that we all – concerned citizens, policy makers, providers and health care advocates – in Washington State champion the important work of ensuring oral health care for all and eliminating health disparities?
A recent opinion piece by Drs. Sue Yoon and Rachel Greene in the Daily Herald effectively explains why making certain that all of Washington’s residents have access to essential dental care is an important goal.
Limited oral health care access can lead to devastating consequences, Drs. Greene and Yoon stated. Oral health impacts overall health. Infections from swollen gums and cavities have been shown to impact diabetes management, pregnancy, heart health and general wellbeing. Visible decay and painful cavities also can affect school attendance, nutrition, and job prospects.
The commentary in the Daily Herald goes on to suggest that oral health care has too often been an afterthought locally and nationally.
“The unfortunate reality is that tens of thousands of children and adults…suffer needlessly from untreated dental disease in our state. Oral health, despite the essential role it plays in maintaining general wellness, has received almost no attention in the national health care debate.”
Fortunately, Washington State is home to caring providers like Drs. Yoon and Greene, and organizations like the Arcora Foundation, the philanthropic arm of Delta Dental of Washington. Arcora Foundation is committed to eradicating health disparities so that everyone benefits from good oral health.
Through grants to community health centers, advocacy, strategic partnerships, public awareness efforts, and support of innovative programs, Arcora has helped improve the lives of many of our most vulnerable and underserved neighbors.
But more work remains, especially reaching poorer, at-risk communities, according to the opinion piece. Drs. Greene and Yoon noted that about half of lower-income children do not get dental care and that just 23 percent of low-income adults saw a dentist in 2016.
“Children, adults, and seniors living in underserved communities and remote rural areas face the greatest challenges. Poor oral health has become a visible sign of economic status, creating a vicious cycle of pain and poverty.”
Even though a reported 1.3 million lower-income Washington residents do not see a dentist, the Snohomish County-based dentists believe that ending disparities in oral health care access is not only necessary but that it is possible. They noted that more people are recognizing the vital role oral health plays in maintaining overall health, and cited efforts to improve healthcare delivery like greater collaboration between medical doctors and dentists and targeted investments that aim to improve dental care access.
That is why Oral Health Watch is answering Drs. Greene and Yoon’s call to work toward ending oral health disparities and support efforts that lead to access for all. Let’s all resolve to ensure that no one suffers from the painful – and often preventable – effects of tooth decay so that everyone in Washington can enjoy the advantages of good oral health and healthier living.